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Dear List,

Asia Times has published a series of five articles on
Iraq. I am posting these articles here in five parts.
I believe they are a good indication of what is going
on in Iraq .


By Nir Rosen, with the US 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment
in Iraq

'This is the wild, wild west'

AL-QAIM, western Iraq - "This is the wild wild west,"
says Captain Chris Alfeiri, holding a fly swatter
while relaxing in between missions. A 30-year-old
native of Boston, Alfeiri is one of about 1,000
soldiers from the 1st Squadron of the 3rd Armored
Cavalry Regiment (ACR), based in Fort Carson of
Colorado Springs, Colorado, and currently stationed in
al-Qaim, at the western edge of Anbar province,
bordering on Syria.

It is a dusty, arid and lawless region, with large
towns by the Euphrates River, which snakes into Iraq
from Syria. Americans are attacked on a daily basis by
a recalcitrant community that used to shoot at the
Iraqi army as well, and every night they can hear
mysterious fire fights occurring inside the towns as
tribes, gangs and smugglers battle over turf.

The 3rd ACR has converted an abandoned train station
into home and called it Tiger Forward Operating Base.
There is a cafeteria, or chow hall with a Pueblo motif
painted on its walls, serving three different hot
meals a day, from bacon and pancakes to pasta and
Asian-flavored chicken with vegetables. There are
TOCs, or tactical operation centers, pronounced "tok".
There are barracks, where soldiers have small gyms,
watch satellite TV and compete in board games like
Risk, seeking world domination, or football video
games on Sony Play Station. There is a detainment
center for prisoners, and even a recreation center
with wireless Internet and "morale phones" to call

Alfeiri's diminutive chin, small eyes, soft cheeks and
shaved head give him a friendly baby-faced look
incongruous with his role as a combat officer who
served in Bosnia for a year, an experience that helped
prepare him for dealing with conflict in an alien
culture, as does his marriage to a former fellow
journalism student from Honduras, whose family he
often visits in their country. His men operate every
day from the western-most base in Iraq. His 130
soldiers, known as Bandit troop, conduct border
surveillance operations, raids, checkpoints and help
reconstruct the towns in the region.

Every night his men roll out of Tiger X Ray, the call
sign for their base, and a convoy of tanks and Humvees
proceeds to the border, driving off the hardball, as
they call the road, in order to avoid improvised
explosive devices, IEDs. They stop at a test fire
range, and make sure their heavy weapons work, the
radio announces that their call sign, White 1, is at
Red Con One (or Readiness Condition One, meaning
everything works) and they head into the black

On a hill a kilometer from the border they observe the
berm for movement, using night and thermal vision
capabilities that allow them to see clearly thousands
of meters ahead, and supported by Kiowa helicopters
code named Nomad, who observe from above. "We have
nightly contact," Alfeiri says. "There are
cross-border attempts both ways." Alfeiri's men fire
warning shots at the infiltrators, who are usually
smugglers of sheep, gasoline, fertilizer and produce.
"We're not seeing guys with truckloads of AK-47s," he
says, "most weapons they carry are for their own
protection." The trespassers usually run back into
Syria after the warning shots are fired. Before the
mission, one of Alfeiri's officers instructs his men
that if they do have to "drop somebody" they should
get a picture of him so that he can be identified.

The men of the 3rd ACR police a porous Syrian border
195 kilometers wide. They studied historical patterns
and compiled intelligence to establish Named Areas of
Interest, or locations where people are known to cross
borders. During the day, Captain Justin Brown and his
Apache troop help secure the checkpoint. After
spending 24 hours a day there for two months, they
reconstituted the Iraqi customs facilities and now
provide security to the checkpoint, where they have
absorbed 130 attacks since taking it over on June 7.

Alfeiri often accompanies his men out on missions. His
First Sergeant, Clinton Reiss from Fort Lauderdale,
Florida, resents the logistical-support role his high
unenlisted rank bestowed on him and seizes every
opportunity to go out with his men as well. Reiss's
hawk-like face is reddened by the sun and at 37 he
still has the thickly muscled body from his days as a
high-school running back. His wife waits for him at
Fort Carson, along with their 13-year-old daughter,
who is angered by teachers who say that the war is
over. It is not over for her daddy, who plans on
becoming a social-studies teacher himself when he
retires from the army.

Early in the morning, Bandit troop takes three
"uparmored" Humvees, meaning Humvees with armored
exteriors, and two Bradley armored personnel carriers
that can hold up to five very cramped "dismounts", and
head out to search three houses for a supporter of
attacks against US troops and a man injured recently
while conducting an attack.

"With the intel we've been getting, its probably a
house full of nuns," complains the acerbic Reiss.
After a few minutes of banter the ride out into the
rising sun is silent. The smell of dust enters the
vehicles as they rumble noisily through the desert.
Alfeiri keeps the communication receiver by his ear at
all times. Metal clacks against metal as weapons are
loaded. Sergeant Tim Carr, the linguist for 3rd ACR
Military Intelligence section, accompanies Bandit this
morning. The 37-year-old native of Michigan studied
Arabic for four months at the Defense Language
Institute in Monterrey, California, prior to departing
for Iraq and received two weeks of supplemental Iraqi
dialect classes as well.

The Stack Team, as the soldiers who conduct the house
searches are called, knock on the gate and ask the
residents if they can conduct a search. They find an
emaciated young man whose entire torso is covered with
burns, and a bullet wound scars his calf.
Sergeant Carr demands to know how he was injured, and
the young man replies, "It was a cooking accident."
Carr questions the family in staccato, searching for
contradictions in their statements. The soldiers are
skeptical that such massive wounds could have occurred
in the kitchen. One soldier jokes, "This ain't the
south, they're not deep-frying chicken here!" They
take the burned man and the owner of the home in for
further questioning.

The troop then knocks on the door of the neighboring
house and a surprised couple protest that they have
nothing. The wife studied English in college and is
eager to practice it with the soldiers. "Welcome,
welcome!" she smiles at the soldiers who gently search
the house for weapons other than the legal AK-47. When
none are found, they thank the family and move on. The
smiling young wife is disappointed by their hurried

The ride back is silent until Reiss asks Alfeiri, "Did
you hear Gregory Hines died?" Alfeiri says, "Yeah, I
still couldn't believe it." The jocular Reiss brings
up the wife of the arrested homeowner. "That woman was
hard," he says. "She didn't have an expression on her
face. If it was my mother she would have been
hysterical." The vehicle is silent for a while and
then he asks, "Did you catch that comedian talking
about the Iraqi uniform and why was it green if they
were in the desert?" After another period of silence
Reiss says, "I still can't get over that IED we found
last night." The mechanism was more sophisticated than
past ones. Composed of two artillery rounds and a car
battery, it was designed to explode when a vehicle
drove over two pieces of metal that would come into
contact and complete the circuit, triggering the
detonation. Only luck had spared his men from the
device, planted brazenly two kilometers from their

Led by Squadron Commander Lieutenant-Colonel Greg
Reilly, known as the SCO (pronounced "sko"), the men
of the 3rd ACR police the border, pursue
anti-coalition paramilitaries and provide humanitarian
assistance to hundreds of thousands of people.

The SCO, whose call sign is Tiger 6, is a tall
41-year-old Californian, his provenance made obvious
by his gentle, wispy voice and his waving limbs. "He's
a little kooky," according to one non-commissioned
officer, reacting to Reilly's intense personality and
uncommon sensitivity. Seated at his desk with drawers
full of junk food and the two sabers emblematic of his
regiment on the wall behind him, Reilly is relaxed,
reclining and throwing his long legs over the desk.

Rimless glasses combine the gaze of an intellectual
with the strong taught jaw and Ranger badge of a
warrior. On the bulletin board listing his schedule of
operations are pictures of his wife and two children,
both in college.

"We don't have a reference point for problem-solving
in Iraq," he explains. "You can't say this is the same
as Bosnia, Kosovo or Afghanistan. You need an
understanding of the situation on the ground to see
what you need to do. Each area has its own distinct
terrain and the terrain in this environment is the
people. It's not a one-size-fits-all thing. It takes a
tremendous amount of thought. It consumes me."

Reilly, a veteran of the first Gulf War in 1991, and
also served in Bosnia, Kosovo and Germany, is
philosophical. "The problem is," he believes, "we're
here and we brought an idea with us. The idea is, in
order for this place to progress it has to move
forward in a way that it governs itself so that basic
human rights and respect for one another are
established. So we have to establish stability and

Reilly is convinced that "most of the people here
understand why we came and are happy the regime fell.
But when the regime fell, so did their system for
supporting themselves. The regime controlled
everything. There is a vacuum. The challenge we face
is that people here expect to see their lives improve.
America is here, America is the greatest industrial
power, so their lives should improve. They need to
have confidence in the future, they need opportunity.
But its very slow and they don't see it happening.
Until they see it and identify with it, there will
continue to be tension and dissent," which is how
Reilly refers to grenades being launched at him.

For Reilly, who majored in economics at Sacramento
State, the panacea is employment. His priority is
getting the regional super phosphate plant at Ubeidi
running at full capacity, employing all its 3,300
workers, as well as the miners in the nearby town of
Akashat and the truckers who would transport the
phosphate, which was once exported to 27 countries.
Reilly's civil-affairs section created an unemployment
office staffed by Iraqis, and so far 2,600
applications have been filled providing information
about the individuals' skills and family size. Reilly
has helped set up a sanitation system, a police force
and a customs organization. He has built
water-treatment plants and hospital wings. His next
goal is the creation of a 200-man civil defense corps
and an 800-man border force staffed by local Iraqis.

In the 1991Gulf War the phosphate plant, which emerges
from the desert with immense convoluted metal tubes
like a city out of Mad Max, was hit by a US bomb and
15 civil defense firemen were killed. Sanctions
imposed on Iraq meant that the plant could no longer
export all over the region as it once did and had to
export phosphate illegally to the United Arab Emirates
by using a false name.

Iraqis called the sanctions regime "the siege", and
the dilapidated condition of al-Qaim's phosphate plant
as well as the entire country's infrastructure were a
result of the asphyxiating blockade on many industrial
goods that a United Nations report described as
reducing Iraq "to the pre-industrial era". Gasoline in
the towns is four times as expensive today as it was
before the war, and locals use gas imported from Saudi
Arabia, an added humiliation for a former
gas-exporting country. The plant depends on power
provided by the Haditha Dam. Looters destroyed three
of the dam's five turbines and stole much of the
power-line grid going to the plant, so it cannot get
enough energy to run.

Reilly acknowledges the paradox of his
responsibilities. "The tactical activities I conduct
to bring security, tactical checkpoints [TCPs, as road
checkpoints are known], raids and patrols, often have
a destabilizing effect. No culture likes to have an
army in their neighborhood. If the Chinese occupied
the US we would react the same way, we would hate them
too, so the more people you arrest over time can have
a destabilizing effect, because if you're not
arresting the right people it can cause dissent.

"I have to be very careful because what I do can have
the opposite reaction from the intention. When we go
search houses we're very polite. Most of these people
have never seen an American. Now we're in their house!
We knock on their door, tell them why we're there.
They ask us in. We don't ransack the house, we don't
touch the women. So that when we leave the house they
know why we were there and we thank them for their
support. They wouldn't appreciate it if we treated
them like criminals.

"Then there are the people that are shooting at us
with routine frequency. Identifying who they are is a
challenge. It's a very small portion of the
population. Holding the entire population responsible
only causes more violence, so I have to surgically
determine who they are and that takes time. But
because of the way we've been doing business here,
more and more people are providing us with
information. When an RPG [rocket-propelled grenade]
goes off in an area, it scares the hell out of them.
Their kids are crying, their mothers are scared. So
they're glad we're doing this." Leaflets Reilly's
psychological operations unit leaves on the road
depict tanks and helicopters and state, "We're
watching you."

(Copyright 2003 Asia Times Online Co, Ltd. All rights
reserved. Please contact for
information on our sales and syndication policies.)

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